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From the pros to the challenges, Ellina Webb looks at the rise in food hall dining and why effective heating and cooling is crucial to a great communal dining experience.

Over the past few years, the trend in on-demand entertainment has boomed as many consumers are moving away from live TV and purchasing subscriptions to platforms that offer variety and instant indulgence.

But what does that have to do with food?

As we move into 2020, our expectations are changing, why wait each week to watch the next TV episode and why limit yourself to watching the same film as the person next to you? The rise in casual dining and food halls across major cities like London, Manchester and Liverpool offer a similar experience; instant food satisfaction and a wide variety of cuisines.  

With the high street in decline, multi-brand department stores and markets seem to be riding the wave – highlighting the importance of collaboration in such turbulent times. Collaboration in the restaurant sector is clearly proving just a fruitful, especially for the smaller independent vendors, which often take centre stage in these establishments.

We all want variety in one place whether that be food, film, fashion or music

Ellina Webb Ellina Webb Marketing Services Manager

Supporting independent food vendors

2018 / 2019 saw the closure and decline of many nationwide restaurant chains, from Italian to American, potentially opening the door or at least encouraging the move to the food court format; the ideal environment for independent food vendors to flourish.

Typically located in areas of the city that are renowned for a certain type of trendy or traditional culture, the average high street chain apparently does not cut it anymore.

Supporting indie restaurateurs, expanding the depth of palate and being in an environment that is “cool” means that food halls fulfil the modern city dwellers desires.

Often selling oriental, Mexican, Asian and European dishes, they literally are the melting pots that blend the fusion of cultures in our conurbations.

Furthermore, on a revenue level, the food court format allows these indie brands, or even start up brands to hit the market in a way that is cost effective. The business model of food courts essentially means lower rent opportunities, shared expense (maintenance etc), higher exposure and footfall traffic, shared infrastructure, shorter contracts and essentially a lower risk investment.

It is a win-win for all!

A new type of dining

Food halls are also the breeding grounds for new communities, with many of them promoting workshops and other social events.

In Box Park Shoreditch for example, sports, film and TV screenings are popular throughout the week along with quizzes, poetry reading and live music.

On the other hand, food halls also appeal to the solo diner due to the communal eating areas and bars being ideal for single diners.

From a tourism point of view, food halls are seeming to become must visit places in order to experience “local” culture in major global cities. Growing alongside the trend for ‘foodie instragramers’, food related tourism is rising year on year, which is probably why we are seeing more and more food halls popping up over Europe.

Some of my favourite European food destinations include Mathallen in Oslo, which came in at number 3 on the Cushman & Wakefield Food Halls of Europe 2017/18 report. I visited Mathallen in 2015 and thought it was a great place for a more cost effective lunch and for fresh produce such as fish.

Foodhallen in Amsterdam was also a great place to visit, although it is a trek outside of the city centre – this came in at number 8 on the report. Mercado De San Miguel in Madrid, which did not make the list, was definitely worth a visit especially because of the amount of tapas they had available (exactly what you expect in Spain) and the centralised location.

Reusing existing buildings

For me, the most appealing element of the food hall trend is the repurposing of existing, often derelict buildings.

Some of my favourites include Seven Dials Market, which utilises the old banana warehouse space in Covent Garden, the new Market Hall off Oxford Street, which fills the empty BHS department store space, Dinerama in Shoreditch, which was an old bullion truck yard, and Mackie Mayor in Manchester, which was an empty building from the former Smithfield market.

Other food halls locations such as Liverpool’s Baltic Market have gone beyond using derelict warehouse space and have actually caused a knock on effect on the footfall and property rates in a quieter/less-developed area of the city.

Of course repurposing existing buildings does have it challenges especially when it comes to surrounding and internal infrastructures, and the efficiency of existing HVAC and electrical systems. Many of these buildings used for food halls however are good base structures such as warehouses and factories which typically consist of large windows and large open floor plans as this article by HMC Architects mentions.

The HVAC challenge

When it comes to comfort (and retro-sitting HVAC systems in the case of repurposing buildings), the infrastructure shared by the vendors has to be up to scratch in order to maintain both the quality of the food and the quality of the experience.

Substantial and effective heating, cooling and ventilation are crucial to both of these points, especially due to the importance placed on the temperature of served food and the temperature of the seating area – keeping customers happy is one of the restaurant sectors highest priorities.

With intense food preparation in such a combined space, temperatures in food hall kitchens are set to sore, meaning that effective ventilation is key to filtering heat and pollutants out of the building as quickly as possible. Effective cooling in also key in drawing the high temperatures away from diners.

Conversely, in food courts that are open to the elements, like Spitalfields or Dinerama (both in East London), heating is also a requirement in winter, which is where environmental HVAC solutions such as heat recovery VRF (which can move surplus heat from the kitchen to the dining area) works wonders.


Such a millennial dining experience requires a modern environmental solution; and innovative systems such as high efficient heat recovery VRF provide effective heating and cooling whatever the seasonal requirement might be.

Ellina Webb Ellina Webb Marketing Services Manager

Ellina Webb is Marketing Services Manager